Review Roundup: Gary Barlow and Tim Firth's THE GIRLS at Phoenix Theatre

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THE GIRLS, based on the true story, the film and the award-winning play by Tim Firth, Calendar Girls, opened last night, Tuesday 21 February, at the Phoenix Theatre in London's West End, where it had previewed from 28 January 2017. The West End premiere follows sold-out runs at the Grand Theatre Leeds and the Lowry Salford late 2015/early 2016. In the West End, the producers have made a commitment to there being no 'premium-rated' seats and no booking fees if tickets are purchased via the official show and theatre websites or direct from the theatre.

The 'Girls' will be played by Debbie Chazen as Ruth, Sophie-Louise Dann as Celia, Michele Dotrice as Jessie, Claire Machin as Cora, Claire Moore as Chris and JoAnna Riding as Annie. Also in the cast will be Joe Caffrey as Rod, Jeremy Clyde as Denis, John Davitt as Doctor, Soo Drouet as Brenda, James Gaddas as John, Jenny Gayner as Miss Wilson (coffee), Steve Giles as Lawrence, Maxwell Hutcheon as Colin, Shirley Jameson as Miss Wilson (tea), Marian McLoughlin as Marie, Judith Street as Lady Cravenshire and Jane Lambert, Rebecca Louis, Victoria Blackburn and Frazer Hadfield, and introducing Josh Benson as Tommo, Ben Hunter as Danny and Chloe May Jackson as Jenny.

Let's see what the critics had to say!

Marianka Swain, BroadwayWorld: Still, it's a charming portrait of community, well marshalled by Firth (also taking on directing duties), and Robert Jones's appealing set combines rolling green hills with kitchen cabinets - domestic and natural harmony. Sentimental and cosy, yes, but it's hard to deny its triumphant spirit and glorious ensemble power.

Michael Billington, The Guardian: The other reason for the show's success is that it destroys the traditional demarcation between composer and lyricist. Barlow and Firth collaborated so closely, with each invading the other's territory, that the show has a seamless quality rare in jointly authored musicals. You see the benefit in the opening number, Yorkshire, an extended chorale that introduces all the key characters and establishes the supposedly timeless nature of life in the Dales: "The seasons come and go and yesterdays don't change." But the whole point of the show is to dismantle that argument and prove that, through female agency and a bit of Yorkshire gumption, a life of cosy routine can be disrupted.

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out: It's nice, then, but the songs meander and so does everything else: it's an hour longer than the film, but tells less of the actual story (the musical finishes with the photoshoot; the film deals at length with its aftermath). Barlow has an affectionate fanbase who will doubtless lap up the warm tone of 'The Girls', but what might have been the debut of a major new West End force feels virtually indistinguishable from a dozen other mildly charming Brit musicals of the last decade or so.

Holly Williams, WhatsOnStage: The pace picks up in the much better second half, and the calendar shoot, iced buns strategically in place, is both very funny and utterly cheering. These girls - no, women - are wonderful; not a dud note. It still feels rare and richly rewarding to see a musical with an older ensemble, and a 40-year friendship between Annie and Chris, especially, is beautifully brought to life by JoAnna Riding and Claire Moore.

Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard: The story of those lightly risqué ladies from the Rylstone and District Women's Institute and their charity fundraising nude calendar is the gift that keeps on giving. Tim Firth turned it first into the hit British film Calendar Girls, then a play and now, in collaboration with none other than Gary Barlow, a musical. It's certainly agreeable, but definitely from the cosy rather than groundbreaking school of theatre.

Mark Shenton, The Stage: These women are determined to make a difference - and so is this show. It puts that most unsung of constituencies - middle-aged women (ironically a huge part of the theatre ticket buying population) and hands them the microphone. It really is extraordinary to see such a spectacular line-up of West End talents blooming, just like the sunflowers that form the central motif to this show's publicity and onstage design, and holding the stage so compellingly yet utterly sympathetically.

Paul Taylor, The Independent: The climactic photo-shoot is hilariously well-timed and springs surprises that I won't spoil as the women whip their kit off behind those strategically placed buns et al. The uplift in the finale of many musicals feels empty because the sequences airbrush away too much of the pain that went before. But the sunflower was seeded by John as symbol of life-seeking persistence ("Like a sunflower following the sun/Won't give up until the day is done"), so it's both inspiring and poignant when a great bank of these blooms rears up as the backdrop to the closing scene. Even the most glowing memorial can't suppress feelings of loss.

Photo credit: Matt Crockett

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